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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What is it with January and bad movies?

And so the traditional January onslaught of crap commences today, with the releases of Leap Year and Youth in Revolt. Next week’s The Spy Next Door ain’t gonna be pretty, either. Why does Hollywood hate us? If someone paid just slightly more attention to the people making movies, couldn’t we avoid creating really, really bad movies that need to be dumped somewhere in the first place? How can we discourage this terrible trend?

S.T. VanAirsdale in Esquire has an interesting suggestion — he thinks we moviegoers should take January off:

What if we took January off at the movies the way studios and distributors seem to do, boycotting cinemas until they started spreading the wealth over the calendar a little more? There is no reason why fall needs to be such a glutted concentration of “good” films — or why summer should have a monopoly on crowd-pleasing blockbusters — while winter pukes a bellyful of undercooked tripe all over the multiplex. Even if (God forbid) there is an actual audience for The Spy Next Door, we should at least have some sort of alternative that day that doesn’t look and feel (and most of all isn’t sold) like Denzel Washington’s post-apocalyptic folly. Is there a reason The Fantastic Mr. Fox or Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans or even Avatar can’t open on January 15? And don’t say “Oscar qualification” either, because just as there’s no law prohibiting decent movies in January, there’s no excuse for critics and award committees to not take in the whole year of releases when sorting out their darlings each December. Who knows — A Serious Man might even have benefited more from being the first great film of 2010 as opposed to just another boutique dramedy sniffing out 2009 honors like a truffle pig.

He makes an excellent point about awards — we critics are perfectly capable of recalling movies from earlier in the year, and with the rise of screeners, rumor has it that many Academy members never bother to see films in theaters at all: they just wait for their screener booty at year’s end.

What is it with January and bad movies?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • Daniel

    The Oscar voters may think they can remember good movies all year long, but when it’s time to give out the awards, they pretty clearly don’t remember anything before October. If you’re like me, and you read way too much “entertainment news,” then you can spend January through April each year reading about the highly acclaimed movies that got overlooked. Maybe this will be the year that Inglourious Basterds wins Best Picture, but I think it will be lucky to get a statue for Best Original Screenplay.

  • sm

    Well, a lot of TV shows start/come back from hiatus in January – maybe the TV and movie execs are working in tandem so there isn’t too much competition. Weird and unlikely, yes, but stranger things have happened.

  • Nathan

    Well, a lot of TV shows start/come back from hiatus in January – maybe the TV and movie execs are working in tandem so there isn’t too much competition. Weird and unlikely, yes, but stranger things have happened.

    You know, that actually sounds plausible. September is also considered a “dumping ground” month and that’s when a lot of tv shows have their season premieres.

  • Hank Graham

    What we have here is a conventional wisdom put together with a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Back in Ye Olden Dayes (i.e., 1930-1950), Hollywood studios saw a drop-off in movie attendance for the month of January. So they learned that that was the month in which to dump movies that they didn’t have much hope for, commercially.

    But there are vast differences between the market then and the market now. No one has had a huge blockbuster that opened in January, but back in the Ye Olden Dayes, the summer wasn’t considered great movie-watching territory, either.

    Have things changed enough so that some blockbuster might come out in January? No one knows, and the way the studios are managed, no one ever will.

    At this point, the studios save up their absolute crap (or movies so different they don’t know what to do with them, like Gilliam’s work) to release in January.

    And round and round and round she goes.

  • RyanT

    While I agree with you, MaryAnn, about studios spreading the wealth, I’m OKAY with January (and February) as dumping ground for meh/sucktastic films because unlike critics such as yourself, we normal folks don’t get paid/have the time to watch ALL of the Oscar/prestige films that came out in November and December. I use January and February to catch up on most of them before the Oscars. It’s a system that works just fine for me.

    January is also the time when most of those prestige films goes wide (see Slumdog Millionaire last year). So with the crappy films, we see good quality films in theaters anyways.

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